Shopping the Quirky Boutiques of Inglewood, Calgary, Canada

“You are never a great man when you have more mind than heart.” The quote from British historian E.P. Beauchene, painted on a mural beside the DaDe Art and Design Lab on 9th Avenue SE in Calgary, could well be the slogan for the surrounding Inglewood neighborhood.

DaDeGallery mural could serve as a slogan for Inglewood (photo credit: Laura Byrne Paquet, c 2013).

DaDeGallery mural could serve as a slogan for Inglewood (photo credit: Laura Byrne Paquet, c 2013).

Heart is certainly not in short supply here. You can hear it when Solita Work at ReWorks Upcycle Shop talks about the products she sells—clever stuff like birdhouses made from used license plates and clocks crafted from old Rod Stewart LPs. You can smell it in the heavy, sweet air at Choklat, where Brad Churchill coats his 470 varieties of truffles in chocolate he makes from Venezuelan and Brazilian cocoa beans. You can see it as a little girl in a red sundress spins in front of the harmonica player on stage at the Blues Can on a sunny summer afternoon.

Among many other quirky recycled products, ReWorks sells birdhouses made from old license plates (photo credit: Laura Byrne Paquet, c 2013).

Among many other quirky recycled products, ReWorks sells birdhouses made from old license plates (photo credit: Laura Byrne Paquet, c 2013).

But there is mind in Inglewood, too. It takes more than enthusiasm to turn Calgary’s oldest neighborhood—once best known for its prostitutes and decaying Victorian buildings—into a thriving urban village in less than two decades. It takes a lot of smart marketing, targeted lobbying and persistence.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • You enjoy chatting with owners of independent boutiques.
  • You like browsing for unusual products.
  • You love a good urban renaissance story.
  • Good for: Lovers of unique, crafty souvenirs.

Brian Imeson, chair of the Inglewood Business Revitalization Zone, knows all about that. Eighteen years ago, he and his partner built an ultra-modern infill home in Inglewood. Despite the neighborhood’s location—it’s a brisk 15-minute walk from the downtown oil company offices in Canada’s third-largest city—it wasn’t on most Calgarians’ radar. “When I built the property, nobody wanted anything to do with Inglewood,” Imeson remembers. But he was drawn by the promise of affordable riverfront property with a difference: from his deck, when the wind is right, he can hear the roar of the tigers from the nearby Calgary Zoo.

From Biker Burgers to Biodynamic Apple Juice

Ten years ago, he opened Inglewood’s Circa Vintage Art Glass, specializing in mid-century modern pieces. Back then, his neighbors included establishments like Handy Liquor and the Pro Line Gun Shop. Today, Pro Line is still around, along with places like Sprouse Fire and Safety (“Fire, Safety & First Aid Equipment Specialists Dedicated to Providing Life & Property Saving Equipment and Services Since 1963”), reassuring the old timers that Inglewood hasn’t skidded headlong into hipster hell. You can still browse for vintage vinyl and eight-tracks on the densely packed shelves at Recordland, a family-owned landmark that predates the skinny-jeans set by several decades. And you can still nosh on giant burgers and crunchy onion rings, with nary a radicchio leaf in sight, at the biker-friendly Kane’s Harley Diner.

The neighborhood may have changed, but the landmark Kane's Harley Diner endures (photo credit: Laura Byrne Paquet, c 2013).

The neighborhood may have changed, but the landmark Kane’s Harley Diner endures (photo credit: Laura Byrne Paquet, c 2013).

But changes have come, as changes do. In 2001, Olivier Reynaud and Paul Rogalski opened the Cross House restaurant in a historic 1891 home on 8th Avenue SE. It morphed into Rouge, now one of the city’s top dining spots. Local boosters enticed the Calgary Fringe Festival to set up shop in Inglewood in 2008, which helped people across the city rediscover—and reconsider—the neighborhood. Handy Liquor moved into a new space and became the Inglewood Wine Market; its old digs are now a Starbucks. A new building nearby houses a furniture store called Limitless, where a space-agey G Bed will set you back a cool $9,980. There’s also a grocery store called Bite, where purple bell peppers, dried goji berries and biodynamic apple juice glow on metal shelves under industrial track lighting.

Real estate prices have kept pace with gentrification; a 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom row house, built in 1912, was recently listed for $599,000. And while Inglewood seems precariously balanced on a high wire between funky and unaffordable, there are signs that it hasn’t fully embraced conformity just yet.

Gentrified but Gritty

“We’re proudly, slightly crazy,” says Jacqueline Drew, CEO of Tenato Strategy Inc., a marketing firm with offices above the Ironwood Stage and Grill. Drew, who also fronts a country-roots band called Jacquie Drew and the Crew, moved her company to the neighborhood eight years ago. With its art galleries, quirky shops and live music venues, it was a more inspiring environment than her former location in a drab industrial district. And she’s very protective of its older, grittier bits.

The Blues Can is a hub for live music in Inglewood (photo credit: Laura Byrne Paquet, c 2013).

The Blues Can is a hub for live music in Inglewood (photo credit: Laura Byrne Paquet, c 2013).

“I don’t think Inglewood would be Inglewood without places like Recordland,” says Drew, who prefers the 24-hour Blackfoot Truckstop Diner to the area’s other, more upscale eateries. “Everything is independently owned, so you get a lot of creativity.”

However, creativity has its drawbacks, she adds. “Nobody keeps consistent hours. They open when they want to open.”

Accustomed to seven-days-a-week shopping back home, I was disappointed to discover Inglewood’s famous deli, Spolumbo’s, is closed on Sundays; I’d hoped to sample one of its famous huge sandwiches. Undaunted, I headed a few blocks further down 9th to Nine Café for a pesto chicken panini and an icy glass of lemonade.

Serving up wine and live music as well as lattes and loose-leaf teas, Gravity is far from an average coffee shop (photo credit: Laura Byrne Paquet, c 2013).

Serving up wine and live music as well as lattes and loose-leaf teas, Gravity is far from an average coffee shop (photo credit: Laura Byrne Paquet, c 2013).

There’s no excuse to go hungry in Inglewood—in fact, its variety of restaurants and coffee shops was what drew me to the area in the first place. A Calgary friend had suggested we meet for a caffeine fix at Gravity, a sleek espresso and wine bar in the same building as Bite. As I sipped my loose-leaf Earl Grey, I glimpsed a blackboard advertising live music nights and highlighting a few of Gravity’s favorite alcoholic beverages—just two elements distinguishing the busy coffee house from the nearby Starbucks. That evening, I met another friend for dinner a block and a half away at Sugo, a charming Italian place with that rare and lovely thing—a waiter who knows his wines but isn’t pretentious about it. (Perhaps my warm feelings for Inglewood are partly the result of fine, fermented grapes.)

Fine Art, Vintage Books and Rare Spices

In between meals, I spent a few pleasant hours overloading my senses. I inhaled the anise-laced air at a spice shop called The Silk Road and the scents of essential oils at the Apothecary in Inglewood. I stroked cracked leather book covers at Fair’s Fair and 450-thread-count pillowcases at Shades of Sleep. Antique lace nightgowns at Pretty Little Things, local designer Bhawana Clark’s sterling silver jewelry, Julie Witten-Land’s jewel-toned photos fused to seasoned steel at Galleria Inglewood—I can’t even remember half the items I admired.

The scents of essential oils fill the air at The Apothecary in Inglewood (photo credit: Laura Byrne Paquet, c 2013).

The scents of essential oils fill the air at The Apothecary in Inglewood (photo credit: Laura Byrne Paquet, c 2013).

O 9th Avenue SE, as I ambled past families with strollers, well-groomed women shopping with purpose and one grizzled old guy keen to point me to his favorite place for ice cream, I spotted a sign that made me smile. Outside The Uncommons—a trendy shop selling ironic sweatshirts and $135 resin piggy banks—was a sandwich board with a self-aware riddle.

“How much does a hipster weigh?” it asked. The answer? “An Instagram.”

These days, it is hard to say who is going to win the battle for the heart and mind of Inglewood: the shaggy-haired Instagrammers, the optimistic entrepreneurs, the old guard congregating over bacon and eggs at Kane’s, or the developers whose billboards touting condos under construction have sprouted on just about every abandoned car lot. In the end, it may be a new breed of urbanite altogether—a blend of all of the above.

Solita Work of ReWorks loves retail, but practices her banjo in the shop when things are slow. Drew juggles marketing and music. And business booster Imeson uses his deck as an outdoor painting studio on warm summer afternoons.

Perhaps a neighborhood doesn’t have to be all heart or all mind, all fun or all business. Perhaps there’s a way to keep diverse, vibrant areas affordable to the huge range of people who make them that way. Perhaps Inglewood really has discovered the secret. It wouldn’t surprise me. After all, it’s been working on it since 1875.

Practicalities

The Inglewood Business Revitalization Zone provides a detailed online guide to the neighborhood’s shops, restaurants, events and history.

Comments

  1. Jill Browne says

    Inglewood is definitely a fun place to stroll! It’s getting better all the time. The riverside path between downtown and Inglewood is undergoing some exciting changes, with a new footbridge over the Elbow at Fort Calgary just opened.

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